“Her Teachers Thought She Was a Dreamer”: Sandra Cisneros and the Backward Glance

October 22, 2015, by

RM3_6265Last Monday was hot for October—a strange day, full of distractions. The radio was full of news but it all seems old.  I self-medicate with baseball, flinch when my team doesn’t win.

I was going to hear Sandra Cisneros read from her new nonfiction, A House of My Own: Stories of My Life.  I think of her poems, the ones I taught in my multicultural literature class.  My favorite was “You Bring Out the Mexican in Me.”  I love that poem.  Everyone had to write an imitation of this poem, but it was “You Bring Out the Blank in Me.”  You had to fill in the blank to make it the right poem for you.  I did it too.  I think of her primarily as a fiction writer or a poet, but I think all those pieces are stories of her life, too.  Maybe names have been changed—not sure.

I drive early to Rice–I don’t want to be late.  When I pull in to park, the sky is pink, like the West, or Mexico, or somewhere else that you might have imagined when the real sky was too dark.

This reading is sold out.  I told my students: “Hey, I think this is going to sell out.”  They look at me like maybe I want them to do something.  I do.  Or I did.  Those tickets are gone. Continue reading

Reflections on Geraldine Brook’s The Secret Chord

October 19, 2015, by

This is the second of a two-part review of special events at Christ Church Cathedral, in partnership with Brazos Bookstore.

24611425In his witty introduction to Geraldine Brooks’s reading, Benjamin Rybeck jokingly accused her of not actually writing her own books. More likely, she traveled back in time to chronicle the rich historical backdrops and singular adventures of her characters.

When she approached the stage, Brooks gamely replied: “I wish I were a time traveler then I could go to Scotland and meet a hunky guy in a kilt.” It was just the sort of improvisation that you attend readings for—to witness the spirited mind of your favorite author (and to hear it in her slight Australian accent).

Brooks started with a few words about reading at a church, mentioning that she was rereading Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, one of her favorite books, which centers on the minister John Ames. She also noted that temple is the place where King David, the main character of her new book The Secret Chord finds “solace and peace.”

In researching the second Iron Age in Israel, Brooks endeavored to replicate aspects of life as it would have been lived—and experienced the origins of several Biblical idioms. She literally “separated the sheep from the goats” and learned how to “be a good shepherd.” Continue reading

David Eagleman talks about the The Brain: The Story of You

October 15, 2015, by

IMG_4450Last week brought two bright stars of the literary world—David Eagleman and Geraldine Brooks—to Christ Church Cathedral, in partnership with Brazos Bookstore.

From one perspective, the writers could not be more different. Eagleman is a neuroscientist who directs a research laboratory at Baylor College of Medicine. Brooks is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of historical fiction. Yet both explore notions of society, time, vision, and humanism in their writing. And their books have been translated into dozens of languages.

This is the first of a two-part review of the special events.

In Reverend Art Callahan’s welcome to David Eagleman’s reading, he quipped that “at church, we do not leave our brains at the door.” This was a perfect prologue to a fast-paced, multimedia event that held the audience (and their brains) rapt.

Eagleman is clearly passionate about the public understanding of science. He’s written for The New York Times, Discover Magazine, Atlantic, Slate, Wired, discussed new trends on NPR and BBC, and serves as an editor for several scholarly journals. Continue reading

Ben’s Hyperbolic Brazos Bulletin

October 6, 2015, by

One of the hot spots of Houston’s literary life is Brazos Bookstore. We are thrilled to have Ben Rybeck join An Open Book as a regular contributor to give us an update on all the exciting happenings with the store. 


Using the time-honored tradition of exaggeration to combat the notion that only quiet, studious things happen at bookstores

IMG_4485Here at Brazos, we do many quiet things. We take books off shelves, we put books on shelves, we carry books in our arms, we sit and read books old and new, we take out the trash (usually not full of books), we drink water, we whisper to well-mannered customers about Jonathan Franzen and Alice Munro…

But then, sometimes, the store literally explodes (clarification: not literally) with excitement—and by sometimes, I mean this happens always, all the damn time. Consider October, for example, when we’ll host Houston’s own neuroscience rock star David Eagleman (10/8); a poetry night with Nick Flynn, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, and Gregory Pardlo (10/19); and other mind-altering literary luminaries like Sloane Crosley (10/16), Eileen Myles (10/24), and Richard Ford (10/26). Plus, we’ll have works of literary horror on display leading up to Halloween. (If you stare at the display for long enough and say “Brazos Bookstore” three times…well…look out behind you.)

But, as they say on infomercials, wait—there’s more! Here are three highlights of our October programming sure to literally blow your mind, literally (see earlier clarification re: use of the word “literally”). Continue reading

Jonathan Franzen and The Great American Novel

October 5, 2015, by

Purity with borderOn Monday, September 21st, I went to the Wortham Center in Houston for Jonathan Franzen’s sold-out Inprint Margarett Root Brown reading.  I couldn’t wait to hear something from his new novel, Purity, for reasons that are a little impure. For better or worse, I had that same feeling that I have when I go to rock concerts, as in, maybe there will be high drama or difficulties and I am going to be there.  Yay me.

No wonder it feels a little hysterical in the room when I get my seat.  It is completely bustling, packed. He has won a slew of awards, sold millions of copies.  It’s nice to anticipate, a feeling that you think might be becoming extinct as we are previewed to death about so many things now.  Even if you have read the book, you don’t know what he will choose to read and how he might sound.

Franzen looks exactly like you expect from photographs:  glasses, jeans, casual without trying. Levy tells us that “Charlie Brown” is Franzen’s favorite comic strip, and I think of how so many times it is Lucy cruelly taking away the football before Charlie Brown comes in for the kick that parallels Franzen’s dramatizations of American desires and subsequent disappointments.  He is good at reminding us how it feels when we hit the ground, duped, yet weirdly, up for it again when Lucy lies to us, asks us to kick it.  Franzen has not written books called The Discomfort Zone for nothing.

Franzen is funny right off the bat.  I already like him since one of his favorite things is Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Gregor’s struggles being grotesque yet hilarious.  Franzen has learned much from him.  Franzen looks at the audience and confesses: “It is always weird reading from one side of the stage.  I feel like I should be showing you slides.”  In a way, he sort of does, showing us glimpses of the main characters through a series of short readings on (or from) each.  Continue reading